Thursday, March 30, 2017

Why 8 Books & An Ice Pack Are My Best Friends

The ol' ice pack, along with eight books, have been my best friends this past month while recovering from a biopsy gone wrong. What a saga. Suffice to say, what was to be a simple procedure--the removal of a few glands in my mouth to rule out Sjogren's Syndrome--turned into weeks of pain and inflammation due to complications: my body's dislike of the sutures used and their unwillingness to dissolve.

It is now day 38 since the biopsy. Life is back to normal and writing a blog post possible. I've a stack of books to tell you about. Among the group are a classic, a biography, three mysteries, one memoir, a terrific thriller, and an absolutely awful novel.

I pondered whether to include that “awful” title, but I like it when friends warn me not to waste my time and money on a book with little redeeming value. Thought you might too.

OK, let's get to those eight books.

A Remarkable Classic!

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
800 pages, Historical Fiction
My rating: 4 Stars
Audio version quite good.

This classic, with its Russian setting, surprisingly moved along quickly and kept me intrigued, except for the two chapters when the men went hunting. I found them dull but recognize later on the author had a definite purpose for writing them.

The book is known as a “great love story,” featuring the beautiful Anna Karenina. That's not how I'd describe it as the story was much more complex because of Levin, the other key character in the novel. His inability to love and grasp man's purpose in life are in stark contrast to Anna. The author further complicates the story by mixing in issues such as class differences, faulty theology, questionable morals, and more.

What I did love about the book was Tolstoy's superb writing! He's a brilliant storyteller. Wish I could also say I loved his main character, Anna, but she was hard to even like given her faulty, selfish choices which led to her sadness and demise. As for Levin, I didn't care for him much either until the end of the book, which, if I told you more would spoil the reading of this classic. 

A British Mystery! 

I Let You Go by Clare MacKintosh.
Mystery, 377 pages, published in 2016
My rating: 3 stars

A picturesque, seaside village in Wales is the setting for this mystery which revolves around a young female who has fled the scene of a car accident where a little boy has died. While the police investigate the crime, working to identify the hit-and-run driver, the female attempts to establish a new identity.

But fear dominates her world as she cautiously blends in with the locals while scared a certain man will find her. Meanwhile, she is befriended by a few from the village but still wary she will be discovered by the police who are mystified as to why she walked away from the accident. 

I read this book based on its praise by several bloggers so went in anticipating a terrific story. For me, it didn't merit that high a rating. The writing was fine, the story had a few surprises along the way, but ultimately, it was a mystery too easy to solve. Audio version pretty good though.

A Timely Thriller

Without Warning by Joel Rosenberg
Thriller,  480 pages, published in 2017
My rating: 4+ stars

I zoomed through this book and did not want it to end. Like the previous two titles in The J.B. Collins Series, this one is also a thriller involving ISIS, Israel's Mossad, U.S. Government officials, and the astute foreign correspondent, J. B. Collins.

Infuriated with U.S. President's weak stance on ISIS, and given inside information, J.B. returns to the Middle East. There he is determined to locate, with the aid of other key parties, the top man behind the terrorist group and prove his intent to infiltrate and overtake America. There is plenty of action, intrigue, a tiny bit of romance, political insights, plus integration of God's Truth which lends understanding to J.B. and his struggle with faith.

Undoubtedly, the most riveting part of the story is the shocking way it ends. Caught me by surprise, and left me thinking for days afterward.

A Curious Woman!

Biography, 432 pages, published in 2015
My rating: 3 stars

Ever since I viewed “Shadowlands,” a movie about how C.S. Lewis came to meet, marry and care for Joy Davidman during her battle with bone cancer, I've been curious to know more this woman.

Aware she had embraced Marxism when young, and later Dianetics, it was no surprise to discover her biography reveal some interesting aspects to her life.

The book begins with her childhood and challenges with her parents, but the bulk of the book addresses her drive to become a recognized writer, her turbulent first marriage, unusual parenting of two sons, and the pursuit of Lewis. Sadly, her first husband's alcoholism and other behaviors, along with Joy's own flaws, eventually led to a divorce and her move to London.

I was hoping by books end to leave with a more positive view of Joy, rather than align myself with others who saw her as “brash, selfish, and driven.” Unfortunately, that didn't transpire as documentation from Lewis or Joy is sparse during their married years so little is known how her thinking or beliefs changed over the course of time. It is evident by a few letters between Lewis and Joy that they loved and enjoyed each others company, that Lewis aided Joy in her belief in God, and both were grateful to God for the time they shared together.

Supernatural or Paranormal?

The Baker's Wife by Erin Healey.
Suspense, 353 pages, published in 2011
My rating: 3 stars

Don't let the title mislead you to think this is a sweet little story about a woman and her bakery. Quite the contrary; it is a suspense novel, loaded with twists and turns, a tinge of paranormal, and with a Christian worldview.

A former pastor and his wife are the main characters who have become owners of a bakery as a new career and ministry. But when the wife's car collides with a scooter leaving behind crushed metal and blood, but no body, a hunt for the missing person ensues. How an ex-con, a hostage situation, a cynical teenager, and a woman who detects God's direction via her identifying with the pain of others makes this mystery more than unusual … and ideal for those of you who are fans of author Ted Dekker.

While I liked the book the paranormal (or supernatural as some prefer to call it) aspect made me question whether this book lines up with Scripture which is why the 3-star rating.


Woman of God by James Patterson.
Fiction, 400 pages; published in 2016
My rating: 1 star

Patterson is a popular writer, known for his mysteries. So when this title showed up at my library I was intrigued. I assumed it would be good. Oh, my. Was I wrong. It's awful!

First off, it's poorly written and edited. Reminded me of what a teen would quickly pull together for a creative writing assignment. It was so bad I actually double checked the short bio on the book jacket to make sure it truly was by the bestselling Patterson. 

Second, while the story started off fine it soon became unbelievable! Just imagine the main character, a female doctor, living through these events in a short period of time: surviving a massacre; being shot by rebels; almost killed by a bus bombing; falling in love only to see him die; quickly falling in love again, marrying and losing that spouse and child in a car accident; becoming involved with a priest who establishes a Jesus, Mary & Joseph (JMJ) church/movement resulting in disapproval by the hierarchy; and the murder of the priest. And that's not all. While these events transpire the woman receives messages from God and at one point has a private meeting with the Pope. Like I said, unbelievable!

Though I was ready to abandon the book early on, I forced myself to read all 400 pages, as I was curious to understand why Patterson would write such a strange story and one that is sure to make many within the Catholic church livid. It seems his intent was to challenge the Catholic church to be more open-minded and inclusive of everyone: let women be priests, let priests marry, consider a female Pope, etc. It's definitely a controversial book, but what I found disturbing within Patterson's story is a theology that adapts itself to suit man's preferences, rather than live by the wisdom and words of God so clearly stated in the Bible.

Medical Mystery

An Open Heart by Harry Kraus, M.D.
Medical mystery, 430 pages, published in 2013
My rating: 3 stars

This book is a blend of mystery, medicine, missions, and spiritual warfare. The main character is a successful heart surgeon who heads to Africa (his home as a young boy) to do further research on a new procedure he has developed. While there his skills will be used to assist the poor with serious medical needs. What he does not anticipate are threats on his life, bizarre prophecies, and other events that force him to face his past and deal with his current lack of faith.

Meanwhile, back home his wife is trying to get to the truth about her husband's involvement in a car accident which took place shortly before his flight to Africa. No one seems to know why he was with one of his female patients who died at the scene and everything points to her husband as the guilty party. Someone is lying, but just who? 


Night by Elie Wiesel
Memoir, 148 pages
First published in English - 1960
My rating: 4 stars

Though this slim volume has been around for decades, it only recently got added to my “To be Read List." That came about after I heard major news networks report on Wiesel's death in August 2016 and make reference to his memorable work which has sold millions. The one-word title was not new to me, but learning more about the author and book's content awakened in me a desire to read it. And I'm glad I did.

It is a memoir of his time, as a teenager, in a Nazi concentration camp, but is much more than a retelling of the events and the atrocities he witnessed. It is also about his struggle with his faith in a God who does nothing to curtail the inhumane killing of innocent lives, plus how writing became his way to counter the guilt he experienced as a survivor.

If you do read this book, look for the updated version as it contains a foreword, written by his wife, giving added information about the book. There is a section at the end of "Night" by Elie in which he clarifies things mentioned in the book and underscores his view on the importance of remembering this painful time in Israel's history.

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Well, this turned in to a rather lengthy post. Guess I'm a little rusty at writing after such a long hiatus. Will make my next post much shorter! 

P.S. What are you reading these days? Anything that merits a 5-star rating?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

10 Interesting Books and a Snazzy Pair of Socks!

Do you have a certain pattern to your reading habits? By that, I don't mean the snazzy design on your socks which you wear as you read, but by the type of books you select. Do you always read fiction, or books that are short, or ones in a certain genre, or always titles from a bestseller list? 

I doubt that most of us pay attention to our reading habits, but today as I scanned the copy below about the 10 books I've read in recent weeks, I realized a new pattern about myself. I tend towards variety!

My choices also seem to indicate a preference for books with a medical element. (I guess my childhood longing to be a doctor when I grow up still lingers.) Another pattern I spotted was my appetite to learn more concerning a subject I know little about, provided it is conveyed in an interesting manner which is what several of the titles below managed to pull off.

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Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande M.D. For once I am in agreement that this book merits being a “bestseller.” Aware that the book addressed end of life issues and the author's religious beliefs that would differ from mine I still found it an engaging book.

The book's focus is on palliative care of those nearing the end of their life, a subject, sadly, most physicians receive little or no training in. Drawing upon his experience and interactions with his father (also a doctor) during his battle with cancer, along with other patients under his care, Gawande tells a compelling story and passes on important lessons we all can use. I wish I had read this prior to the years I spent caring for my elderly parents. Our conversations would have been so much better and richer had I known then what Gawande's book presents.

The Watcher King: Book 1 of The Pa'raghon Chronicles by Deborah Alten. This fast-paced fantasy can be read in under two hours! So hang on as the author takes you to a realm not of this world where two brothers, sole survivors of Pa'raghon, are thrust into a fight for the survival of their kingdom. Malatthias, the eldest brother and heir to the throne, with the aid of heaven's Holy Warriors, the Eldrids, and a number of unlikely foot soldiers join forces to hold back the evil army of Nephilim.

While fantasy is not my favorite genre, surprisingly I found myself enjoying the fast-clipped story and the author's skill at writing descriptive settings and action scenes. However, the plot-driven story and quick read didn't allow for adequate character development. But I'm hoping their personalities will evolve in Book 2, which is due out later this year.

As Sure as the Dawn: Book 3 of the Mark of the Lion Series by Francine Rivers. No other series has impacted me more than this one and listening to the audio version made certain characters all the more unforgettable. In Books 1 and 2 the story revolves around Hadassah, a Jewish/Christian girl who is captured and sold as a slave by the Romans. In As Sure as the Dawn (Book 3) a German warrior is the main character. He too was captured by Rome but wins his freedom after years of success as a gladiator. Once free, he is determined to return to his homeland with his infant son who he was told had died but in truth was rescued and given to Rizpah, a young Jewish widow. Forced to return the child to the father, Rizpah obeys, but then God blocks the German's plan, forcing him to change his mind and allow her to journey with them back home. Multiple struggles are faced along the way, including his spiritual battle with God. But the worst comes upon reaching their destination and find their lives in danger due to their belief in the One True God.

The Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner. Take one death aboard a ship destined for America in the early 1900's and a mystery begins. Add a beautiful scarf, bearing a name embroidered on its edging, that ends up in the hands of a nurse working at Ellis Island and the mystery turns into something more. Add to that two fires in New York City experienced by the nurse, and years later by a woman who has been given the same scarf to discern its original owner, this story becomes very complex. The author has also managed to weave some interesting information about Ellis Island and depict how people were processed before entering America creating a satisfying work of historical fiction.

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman. This is a fun mystery thanks to the quirky, elderly and adventuresome Mrs. Pollifax who is determined to be a CIA agent. Through a mix up she lands the job and is immediately sent off to Mexico where her first assignment transpires. What she believes will be a 3-week-vacation-adventure turns into a kidnapping and the international hunt for her and the men intent on stealing a certain item. It's a who-dun-it with bits of humor sprinkled throughout. 

Unashamed: Drop the Baggage, Pick Up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny by Christine Caine. After hearing positive comments about this woman I was curious to know more about her. Australia is her homeland and she currently heads up the A-21 Campaign, a Christian ministry she established to raise awareness and rescue those who are victims of human trafficking. What I found in this book was a lot of good information about shame and how to overcome it—a task that is not as simple as it appears. As someone who was bullied as a young child and experienced shame as a consequence of cruel remarks by others, shame is something Christine understands but has overcome. She offers solid, practical, biblical advice via words full of love and mercy. I listened to this in audio format and enjoyed Christine's Aussie accent and good delivery of her material. The only criticism I have of the book is the repetitive way she conveys her points.

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek, M.D. This book is not for everyone. But, if you like forensic science and can handle actual detailed accounts from a coroner then read on. Medical forensics or mysteries intrigue me, so this book appealed to me, but an entire book of over 200 cases was a bit much at times, requiring several long breaks from the reading matter. The book follows a female doctor through her first two years of work as a forensic scientist in New York City with a glimpse into her personal life with her husband and young child. The best part of Working Stiff came when the doctor recalled events on 9/11 and the months that followed as she and others processed the whole and partial remains of the thousands who died in that tragedy. It's a perspective I've not read in any other article or book about that unforgettable morning and the days that followed. For that reason alone I'm glad I worked my way through this book as it broadened my understanding of those who saw it first hand and of those who came to the aid of others. Warning: a few obscenities.

The Domino Effect by Davis Bunn. If you own stocks, or work in the banking industry, or a financial manager, or simply find anything to do with money fascinating, then you will probably like this book. But even if you are not a whiz at finances and have no idea what is a “risk analyst” don't rule this book out. I know little about the stock market but was still able to enjoy this novel about a woman who works at a large New York banking firm and uncovers devious strategies being put in place that could spell financial disaster for millions worldwide. But how to counter and stop the looming crisis is the question and which propels the story along.

Only Time Will Tell: Book 1 of the Clifton Chronicles by Jeffrey Archer. It's been years since I've read an Archer novel so when this title came on sale I could not resist. He's still the good writer I remember. This title has some interesting characters—a young lad, an old man who lives in a railroad car, a wealthy aristocrat, a poverty-stricken widow, and more. It also includes a mysterious death, and a man with a hidden secret that, if known, would alter his son's world. It's not a great read, but an enjoyable one like the type you'd take to the beach or curl up with by the fire on a cold, winter's night. It has a bit of a cliff-hanger ending, but that's to be expected as this is a series.

The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers. This novel tackles and succeeds in addressing two sensitive topics: rape and abortion. In typical Rivers fashion, she has loaded her story with varying perspectives and uses three female characters to help us understand how one event has the potential to wreak havoc on many lives. What I did not expect as I read The Atonement Child was to gain bits of facts about both topics; I thought I was well informed but discovered there's always more to learn. How the author included varying viewpoints within the story made for a very balanced, practical, and thoughtful read. Placing the events within the context of a Christian family who has fiercely opposing views worked beautifully and forced the reader to ponder all perspectives before drawing any conclusions. What added interest in this story was knowing that one of the characters was based on Rivers abortion experience. This would make an excellent women's book club read. 

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Well, that's what has kept my life interesting since mid-December and what socks I'm wearing this winter. 

What about you? Reading a book you just can't put down? Or figured out your particular reading patterns? This curious mind would love to know. 

Happy reading!


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

How You Can Enjoy Making a "Reading List for 2017"

Anyone else feeling the pressure to have a reading list this year? Up until last week, I simply read whatever and whenever I wanted. No pressure. Then came along numerous blog posts and Pinterest boards touting their “Reading List for 2017.” Perusing a few of them got me to thinking: Um, I wonder if having a list would enhance my reading efforts?

Out of curiosity, I decided to give it a try, but on my own terms. You see, a part of me cringes at the idea of a predetermined reading list, fearful such structure would rob me of the joy that shows up when I discover a book I really want to read. But then, there's also a part of me that knows . . . if you don't plan for something, most likely it won't happen.

So, I came up with an alternate "list" plan that permits a bit of spontaneity, takes into consideration my values, plus reflects my interests and preferences, unlike those offered online. Those primarily use prompts, such as “Read a book that received an award” or “Read a book published in 1950,” from which you develop a list. I've nothing against creative prompts and one day may go that route. But for me, the idea to build my own list, and tweak it a bit by giving myself the freedom to add or delete titles at whim, is more my style.


The aim of my 2017 list is simple: enjoy a diverse mix of genres, and read 100 books by year's end. 

My list is incomplete at this stage--only 18 titles so far--though growing quickly. Each day I keep finding new titles to include, such as this morning's two additions: Traces of Guilt and Homegoing. Ready to view my list? Okay, here are my choices, plus my reason behind each selection:


A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The premise of this book intrigues me as does it's foreign setting. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. 

Atonement Child by Francine Rivers. This novel addresses two tough subjects: rape and abortion. Discovering the author (one of my favorites) based one of the book's characters on her personal abortion experience made me want to read the title even more.

I Let You Go by Claire Macintosh. I like a good, British mystery and I'm told this one is quite good with a surprise ending. Maybe a book you read in one sitting?

The Green Ember by S. D. Smith. Fantasy books don't usually enthrall me, but I'm giving this one a try due to its very positive reviews. But bunnies as main characters? We shall see.

Homecoming by Yaa Gyasi. Initially, I ruled this book out but then changed my mind when a reviewer made the comment about the author "not accusing or excusing" but portraying accurately African's slave history.

Traces of Guilt (An Evie Blackwell Cold Case) by Dee Henderson. Her O'Malley Series is terrific so I'm banking that this first in a new mystery series will be too.


Parables by John MacArthur. Some of Jesus parables still puzzle me. Maybe MacArthur will remove some of my frustration by explaining in depth the meaning behind each one.

The Art of X-ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing by Roy Peter Clark. Don't know if this book will live up to its promise, but counting on one out of the 25 titles referenced will teach me a tip or two.

Franchising McChurch: Feeding Our Obsession with Easy Christianity by Thomas White. Many (me included) are questioning the direction and methods of today's church. This book appears to present a balanced and biblical viewpoint on the hot topic.

Night by Elie Wiesel. Have wanted to read this acclaimed Pulitzer prize winner for a long time. I'm pretty sure his Holocaust story will move me to tears.

Rethink How You Think by David Stoop. Over 20 years ago I read this book (formerly titled Self Talk) and frequently recommend it to others. Time to revisit this gem that is full of wise counsel.

Loving People: How to Love and Be Loved by John Townsend. Wishing I were better at loving others makes me want to hear what this respected Christian psychologist has to say.


Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria. Ever since I saw the movie, "Shadowlands," I've wanted to know more about this woman who married C.S. Lewis.

Born a Crime: Stories from a Southern African Childhood by Trevor Noah. Books with an African setting intrigue me and this one appears to have both fascinating and educational elements. 

He Speaks in the Silence: Finding Intimacy with God by Learning to Listen by Diane Comey. Expecting to learn valuable lessons from this true story involving a deaf adult.

Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us by the Events Through Our Lives by Ravi Zacharias. This man's intellect amazes me. I've wanted to hear the story of how he came to believe in Christ . . . and now's my chance.

God is Just Not Fair: Finding Hope When Life Doesn't Make Sense by Jennifer Rothschild. In all honesty, I started this bio last year and was captivated by how she handled and adapted to the news she was going blind, but I never finished it. It's time I do. 

The Fairy Tale Girl by Susan Branch. Even though I read books two and three of this series out of order it didn't matter. Each of these is illustrated and told with such charm. I'm looking forward to Book 1 which covers Branch's life during the l950-1980's. It will be the perfect Spring read.

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How does my list compare to yours? Any title of mine make your list too? Or is there a book you would like me to read in 2017? Hey, I'm open to suggestions ... like another 82! 

Hope to return soon with titles I read in the past 30 days that merit recommending, so do come back!  


P.S. I need your input. I'm trying to identify what other things, besides book reviews, would be helpful to you who read this blog. Have any advice for me?